It’s 5:30 a.m., and Hana Nrecaj is making biscuits.
Starting with all-purpose flour, buttermilk, and other ingredients she won’t divulge, she mixes the dough. Forgoing the use of measuring cups or spoons, she mixes it “until it looks right”, then turns it out into a floured pan for a gentle kneading. Too much kneading, she cautions, and the biscuits will be too dense.
Hana’s in the back room of her restaurant, the recently-opened Biscuits & Gravy, located just off Ford Road, in Canton, Michigan. The restaurant has been open for less than two months, and Hana has been making the biscuits every morning. It’s a labor of love.
It’s been this way for most of her life. Hana and her husband, Joseph, have been in the restaurant business for over thirty-five years.
Born in Kosovo, Hana and her family came to the United States in 1971. They settled in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, just north of Harlem.
Eventually, the family settled in Michigan, where Hana met Joseph. The Albanian families had known each other in Kosovo, and things moved quickly.
The Nrecaj’s celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on February 5th.
They started working in the restaurant business at Ever-Joy Burgers, a slider emporium located at the intersection of Evergreen & Joy Roads in Detroit. While I don’t know for sure, I’m guessing the building looked a bit like this:
Together with a partner, they opened for business on April 5, 1982. Like most restaurant openings, there were a few bumps along the way. In this case, after cleaning all night for the opening, Hana went into labor, about a month early. Joseph drove her to the hospital, where their youngest daughter, Vera, was born.
Although she didn’t tell me so, I think Joseph gave her the rest of the day off.
For the next two decades, they opened, closed, bought, and sold restaurants in Michigan and Florida. Sometimes with partners, sometimes alone. Almost always open all night. They were rehabbing a restaurant in 2001. 9/11 happened right before their opening.
It was a tough time to open a restaurant. Joseph had a stroke. They moved to Florida, hoping the warmer climate would help his recuperation.
The girls were older, and Roza opened a restaurant, The Morningstar Cafe. Roza ran the restaurant; Hana brought her work ethic, and her recipes. They kept the 140-seat restaurant full, and they were NOT open 24 hours.
However, Roza missed her Corporate job, and she returned to Michigan after three years.
Hana tried other jobs in Florida, but none really worked out. She loved to cook, and missed her daughters (Vera was also in Michigan). Hana and Joseph moved back to Michigan in 2015.
After a year, they started looking for space. In a strip mall off of Ford Road, Moo Cluck Moo was closing, and the cozy space seemed right.
They opened on April 10th. Hana runs the kitchen, and Roza and Vera are there to help on the weekends.
It’s a family business in every sense of the word.
The menu is a single large sheet: breakfast on one side, lunch on the other.
Everything is homemade, except for one thing – the chocolate cake.
For breakfast, the obvious choice is the restaurant’s namesake. For $5.50, you get two giant biscuits, smothered in sausage gravy. The biscuits are large, with a crisp exterior, and an interior with a wonderful crumb. They are among the best I’ve tasted.
The sausage gravy features a tasty sausage, one with plenty of sage and spice. There are irregularly-shaped chunks of sausage in the gravy, reminding you that you are eating food made by a person, not a machine. The gravy itself heavily flecked with black pepper, and the overall taste is that of home, comfort, and love.
The portion is large – the picture shows a half-order, available for $4.
Roza is a fan of Eggs Benedict, and you can see her influence on this portion of the menu. I have tried two of these, and suspect they are all delicious.
The Southwest Benedict has chorizo patties, poached eggs, and one of the best sauces ever, a chipotle hollandaise. The hollandaise isn’t kidding around – there’s some serious heat in it, so beware. But overall, this dish is so good it should be illegal.
The French Benedict is a direct Roza creation, a flaky croissant topped with ham, Swiss cheese, poached eggs, and hollandaise. Once you taste this, you’ll wonder why it’s not on every brunch menu. The nuttiness of the Swiss cheese plays against the saltiness of the ham, the richness of the egg yolks, and the bright citrus of the hollandaise to make a flavor profile that is more than the sum of its parts. I will caution this is a rich dish.
Pancakes are giant, bigger than dinner plates, in stacks of three, which will easily serve two. For $6. Breakfast for two adults for six bucks. Amazing!
The pancakes can be ordered with berries, nuts, Nutella, and other toppings for a small additional charge. As you can see in the photos, it’s money well spent.
The pancakes feature a buttermilk batter, and they rise a bit while cooking. However, the pancakes are griddled in a bit of butter, creating a crispy crust on the outside. It’s a different textural element, and a bit unique.
Omelettes seem more normal sized than the other menu items, although they are stuffed to bursting, as you can see.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the breakfast meats. While I already described the sausage, the bacon is worthy of discussion as well. Why? Because it’s great bacon. While almost all bacon tastes good, great bacon is something else, a lovely mixture of smoke, salt, and porky goodness. In the picture, you can see Russell par-cooking a bunch prior to open. He finishes the bacon to order–on the grill, not by dunking in the fryer, like some other restaurants. You can definitely taste the difference.
One final thing – note a few things in the picture below. Russell is wearing gloves as he handles the food. Notice the stove next to the grill, neatly wrapped in aluminum foil. This makes cleaning easy, and keeps the stove much neater. Clearly, cleanliness and sanitation are important here. You can also see how fresh the vegetables are that are cooking on the grill. These are all signs of a quality operation, and a cook that knows his craft.
At some point, I”m going to have to flip over the menu, and start trying some of the lunch items. Knowing how good the bacon tastes, the BLT, with a griddled biscuit (!), seems an obvious place to start.
However, the breakfasts are so good, it might be a while before this happens.
During the month of June, you can get 10% off your food bill at Biscuits & Gravy. Simply tell them you saw this article, and the pictures of the lovely Hana and Roza, on I Write for Food, and they’ll take 10% off your check.